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Ford Transit Van – Why It’s The Best Camper Van

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Why-We-Chose-Ford-Transit-For-Vanlife

We love our Ford Transit camper van. But we understand that when building out your own DIY camper van, there are so many different vehicles to choose from, like the popular Mercedes Sprinter & Ram Promaster. And every vehicle has their pros and cons.

In this post, we discuss the different categories that are important to van life travelers and award points based on how each van performs in each category. The winner is the van with the MOST points.

Warning:

 To determine a winner, we will award points to each van based on each category. The ranking & amount of points we award is very much unscientific, possibly arbitrary, and likely biased. Take our ranking system with a grain of salt, but you can use this post to help you decide which van is best for you.

Want to build a camper van? Check out our
DIY Camper Van Build Guide

The Competition

When evaluating why we think the Ford Transit is the best commercial van for van conversions, we’ll look at the different aspects from the viewpoint of the following four common vehicles.

Ford Transit Van

Ford Transit

Mercedes Sprinter

Ram Promaster

Older Models

Interior Height

Tallest interior standing height - ford transit camper van
We can both comfortably stand inside our Ford Transit camper van

Internal space is one of the camper van factors most important to us. We want to have space to move around without feeling claustrophobic. And of the three major commercial van brands, Ford Transits have the tallest internal height. Below are the internal height specs:

Sportsmobile has a great resource page for more detailed dimensions on each van.

Why Is Internal Height Important?

Loss Of Height During Van Build

We knew we would lose some of our internal height when building the floor and ceiling of our camper. In the end, we lost ~2″ of height. Having lots of internal height to begin with helped maintain our large interior living space.

Larger Upper Cabinet Space

Since we wanted to maximize our storage space for clothes, food, and other important items, we built upper cabinets all throughout our van. A higher internal height allows us to build larger upper cabinets in order to maximize our storage.

More Livable In The Long Term

A higher internal height creates a more airy environment and reduces feelings of claustrophobia. This is especially important during times of bad weather and when we’re not physically traveling. Instead of renting apartments and Airbnbs, we were able to wait out the bad periods (and save money) in cheaper campsites.

Rear Wheel Drive

Parked La Cienega De Gonzalez - Ford Transit Camper Van
Parked On Loose & Rocky Terrain In Mexico

If you plan to take your camper van off the asphalt highways and do a bit of off-roading, it’s a good idea to have van with rear wheel drive. This is because since most of the weight on a camper van sits on the rear wheels, these wheels have the most friction with the ground. It is this friction that creates a strong grip with the road and keeps your van moving forward.

But when dirt roads get steep, wet, or both, friction between the van’s tires and the road is reduced and wheels can skid under these less-than-ideal conditions.

The risk of skidding is only compounded with front wheel drive vans, like the Ram Promaster. If the roads are rocky, steep and/or wet, a Promaster is at a further disadvantage because it’s front wheels, with less weight and less road friction, is forced to pull it’s heavy backside up the steep road.

We’ve already witnessed two different Promaster vans burn quite a bit of tire rubber just trying to get out of tricky situations.

Which Vans Have Rear Wheel Drive?

Cheaper Repair Bill

One of the major disadvantages of the Mercedes Sprinter is the repair bill should anything break or malfunction. One of the biggest reasons for the large repair bills is the Sprinter’s diesel engine.

With all the diesel engine’s state-of-the-art digital sensors, pollution filters, & controls, likely only an authorized Sprinter repair shop will be able to fix the van should anything go wrong. And diesel parts may need to be shipped in, only adding to the wait time and cost.

Talk to anyone. Sprinter repairs are notorious for being expensive.

We chose to skip all that hassle and potential by choosing the Ford Transit and it’s gasoline engine. Should anything go wrong, we can take our van to most repair shops as opposed to trying to find authorized mechanics.

Dream of Driving The Pan-American Highway?: Gas engines are the way to go. No need to worry about fuel quality in Latin America and plenty of gas-engine mechanics everywhere.

Which Vans Are Cheapest To Repair?

Engine Power

The Ford Transit may not have the power of a V8 engine that the older work vans come with or of the Sprinter’s diesel engine, but by upgrading to Ford’s Ecoboost engine, which combines a turbocharger with direct fuel injection, we feel the power differences between our Ford Transit gas engine and the Sprinter’s diesel are minimal.

We’ve driven through some really steep and bumpy terrain on National Forest land in the US and all throughout Mexico without any problems. Zero.

The Ford Transit Ecoboost Engine is a champ.

Capable Engine?

Price Point ($$$)

As we were in the market for a new vehicle, we felt that the price point for a Ford Transit was reasonable. Great value for the money spent.

In total, for our new 2018 Transit, we paid $36,729,92 at the dealership.

Compared to a standard Mercedes Sprinter, we paid $5,000 to $10,000 less for our comparable Ford Transit van.

And compared to a Ram Promaster, we paid only about $2000-$3,000 more for a van with a better build, better engine, and more ground clearance.

We award points below based not on overall price, but on the value you get for the money you pay.

Price Point Comparison

Interested To Buy New From A Dealership?

We did a ton of research beforehand and learned a lot of dealership negotiation best practices along the way. Read more about it below.

"Stealth" Factor

The Best Van For Van Life - Commercial Vans

While we don’t believe we are fooling many would-be thieves from thinking that we are a standard commercial van, we also don’t believe we are an attention magnet either, unlike a Sprinter van with it’s flashy Mercedes logo.

Ironically, we don’t believe in building a 100% stealth camper van, but we do enjoy flying under the radar with our Ford Transit.

However, stealth living isn’t the Transit’s strong suit. We actually think the older models (duh) win the stealth battle as well as the Promaster’s lower height profile.

Ground Clearance

If you’re thinking of really going off-road, a vehicle’s ground clearance is an important factor. Too low of a ground clearance, and a vehicle’s underbody is liable to get bumped and scraped.

Truth be told, the Transit’s clearance is nothing to gloat about. Depending on where you measure, our ground clearance is:

  • Minimum Front bumper clearance: 9.5″
  • Rear Differential: 6.5″
  • Exhaust Pipe: 9.5″
  • Shocks: 5.5″
  • Rear Bumper: 15″

With the highest ground clearance of the bunch, this is where the Sprinter shines.

Tallying Up The Totals

Adding up all the points from the above 7 categories, we get our final rankings.

And so you see why we ended choosing a Ford Transit as our camper van. If you agree, or disagree, or even feel like we missed a category, please let us know in the comments or by sending us an email.

Learn More: How To Build A Camper Van

If you are looking to build your own camper van, check out our camper van build guide. There you can find lots of great, free resources that talk about everything from insulation, to the best vent fan for camper vans, and how to build a kitchen counter.

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